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Team Built on Friendship and Camaraderie

Yesterday I sat down with my friend and colleague Darren Yondorf to explain to him the different pieces of our work. The past few months while in the States, Darren has been a huge asset with fundraising and has now made the move to live and work with us at our headquarters in Guatemala. Darren and I have been friends since we were about five-years-old, growing-up together in Ashland, Oregon. Now, we are in Guatemala working to establish Semilla Nueva. It is both beautiful and surreal to join hands with such an old friend in this endeavor. Darren has a B.S. in Biology from University of Oregon, and he brings a strong science background to our work. He is bright, light-hearted, and cares a great deal about what we are doing. Needless to say, it is wonderful to have the guy on our team.

As I was describing our work, explaining the philosophy and strategy behind each component, I watched his eyes get big on several occasions. He was soaking up the ideas and I could watch that fire of enthusiasm be sparked. At the end of our conversation, he said to me, “Wow Joseph, that’s awesome. Really amazing.” He had several follow-up questions and ideas for how we could tweak our programs to ensure a strong scientific grounding. And it was in that moment that I felt that Darren had really joined the team. He conceptually grasped our approach and was becoming intimately knowledgeable of our work. Tomorrow, he would be going on his first community visit and soon would be running full-force with the team.

It was invigorating to know that I would be going on such a journey of personal growth, accomplishment and challenge with such a close friend. Sharing experiences like that with a person you completely trust adds another level of power to the experience. A close friend is in a unique position to help you see hard truths, lift you up in difficult times, share profound insights, and inspire strength and dedication.

Many of us have the opportunity to share leisure with our friends and that is certainly an essential component of friendship. But it is not so many that have the opportunity to join hands in serious work with our friends. Since I began my work with development in 2004, I have always found myself working with friends that I trust and love. Those bonds seem to build the best sort of team possible. There is a camaraderie, a kind of support and fire that makes such teams a powerful force. Having worked in other environmental and development NGOs, I can say that that kind of dynamic is often all too lacking. Building an organizational culture of passion, support, and free exchange of ideas is a hard task to accomplish at an institutional level. In contrast, I find that dynamic to naturally flourish here at Semilla Nueva.

I feel lucky to be here and on this team. Each team member is also a very close fiend. Curt and I met our first day at Whitman College, and found ourselves lost in a new city while also lost in conversation for some six hours. We became comrades in academic study, and partners in activism. Brook and I grew-up together playing soccer in Ashland, and have been working in development side-by-side since 2004. I met Trinidad in 2006 while working on a biofuels project, and we have been friends and colleagues ever since. Fletcher and I were inseparable since first grade, and now he is giving all he can while in the States to further our work. And Zeke! What a beautiful soul and brilliant man. It was been a honor to get to know him through work with Semilla Nueva and to grow together as friends.

Last, but certainly not least, is our esteemed media and fundraising specialist— Ryan Shea of Open Hand Media. We met Ryan through Twitter of all places. Curt’s mom made a Twitter post about our work, and Ryan’s RSS feed on #sustainableagriculture found us. He was inspired by our ideas and has now joined the team. He is donating 100% of his time just because he believes in us. And as we work to help Ryan start his social venture in coffee, I can safely say that we all believe in him as well!

Though I could continue on about the history and many wonderful traits of these friends and colleagues, the point I want to make is about teams that are grounded in friendship and mutual love. There is of course a danger there because it puts stress on the friendships. There is also the danger that it will blur lines of professionalism. Both concerns have their validity. In the same vein, if we look to social movements, revolutions or any other significant societal change—we will see something more than professional relationships at work. We will see the fire and strength of camaraderie and friendship fueled by a shared vision, respect, passion, and deep care for each person involved. And that is what I believe makes our team so capable and effective. We are a team of comrades who are close friends. And we are working hard to lay the foundation for a sustainable future.


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